TTS Mahabharata 2003 - 2.02 - Sikhandi's Destiny

Uploaded by davidlugan on 29.10.2012

MBK: 2.2: Sikhandi's Destiny
Chapter 2 Sikhandi's Destiny
(as told by Bhisma)
As you know, I long ago accepted a vow neither to occupy the throne nor to have children
who could lay claim to it. My father, Santanu, then married the beautiful Satyavati and had
two sons, Citrangada and Vicitravirya. He died before his sons were grown and I was
left as their protector. Citrangada was killed in a battle with the Gandharva king, and Vicitravirya
was left sole heir to the throne.
As he came of age, I thought it time to find him a wife. I heard that the king of Kashi
had arranged a svayamvara for his three daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. I decided to ride
into Kashi on my chariot, prepared for battle. Kings and princes had assembled at the svayamvara
from all over the world, all hoping one of the girls would choose to marry them.
Upon seeing this, I remembered that the wise approve of many kinds of marriage, but for
a ksatriya the best is when the bride is snatched from an assembly of warriors after defeating
them in a fight. I then announced to the kings that I had decided to carry away all three
princesses for my younger brother, and challenged them to prevent me if they could.
Then I took all three maidens onto my chariot and sped away. The kings were at first surprised,
then furious. They pulled on their armor and mounted their chariots. Soon hundreds of them
were in pursuit. Thousands of arrows showered down upon my chariot, but I dexterously avoided
them all. As the princesses trembled in fear, I took up my own bow and turned to face the
kings. I countered the shower of their shafts with my own. At the same time, I pierced every
one of my antagonists. So swiftly did I shoot my arrows that my foes were completely confounded
and could only applaud my prowess. Some were killed and others had their weapons smashed
and their armor torn off. They retreated and fled in various directions.
Shalva, however, continued to chase me. He was determined to win the hand of one of the
maidens, and he rushed after me shouting, "Stay, stay!"
Provoked, I faced him. A furious but short-lived battle ensued. I soon overpowered Shalva and
destroyed his chariot, although I decided not to kill him. I then returned to Hastinapura
with the three maidens.
When I arrived in Hastinapura, the eldest princess, Amba, approached me and said, "I
had already chosen Shalva as my husband. He too accepted me in his heart and my father
agreed to the match. I would have chosen him in the svayamvara, but you kidnapped me and
I did not have the opportunity. O knower of virtue, tell me what I should now do."
I asked her to wait while I discussed the matter with the Brahmins. It was concluded
that Amba should be allowed to go to Shalva's city and offer herself to him. We gave her
an escort of priests and maidservants, and sent her to Shalva. When he saw her, however,
he said, "O lady of fair complexion, I no longer desire to accept you as my wife, for
you have already been taken by another. You were led away cheerfully by Bhisma before
all the other kings. How can I, who must lay down the law for others, now accept you? You
have been touched by another. According to holy books, I cannot now accept you as my
Amba tried to change Shalva's mind, pleading that she had not been happy to be kidnapped.
She had gone to Shalva at the first opportunity. The king was adamant. He would not accept
her. He told the disappointed princess to return to Hastinapura. Weeping like a she-osprey
she thought, "What woman in the world could fall into greater trouble than the predicament
I now face? I have been robbed of my friends, Shalva has wronged me, neither can I now return
to Hastinapura, and neither can I go home in such shame and rejected by everyone."
Reflecting on the cause of her troubles, Amba decided that I was to blame. She wanted revenge.
Rather than return to Hastinapura, she chose to go to a hermitage and stayed the night.
In the morning, the rsis saw her weeping and inquired about her sorrow. The lady told them
everything and asked them to help her, but the rsis replied, "We have renounced all worldly
action. What can we possibly do to help your cause?"
Amba asked that they allow her to remain with them and to engage in asceticism. She had
decided that the calamity that had befallen her was the result of her past sins, and that
by practicing penance, she could become freed of them.
The rsis consulted among themselves. Some thought Shalva should have accepted her, while
others proposed that I should marry her. Eventually they decided that she should return to her
father, for a woman must always be under the shelter of a husband, son or father. But Amba
refused to go. She said she would never return to her father's city and suffer disgrace.
While the rsis thus sat pondering about what to do, the royal sage Hotravahana arrived
at the hermitage. He took special pity on Amba because he happened to be her maternal
grandfather. He became enraged that I had stolen her and thus ruined her life. With
his lips trembling in anger he said, "O Amba, you have grieved enough. Do not go to your
father's house, for that will only increase your grief. You should place your case before
the great Parasurama. He is my good friend and well-wisher. For my sake he will surely
remove your grief. Either he will convince Bhisma to accept you, or he will slay him
in battle. Only this sage is powerful enough to do either."
It so happened that Parasurama was due to arrive at the hermitage the next day. He arrived
early in the morning, clad in black deerskins and surrounded by his disciples. With an axe
over his shoulder and a bow in his hand, he was a frightening sight. Long matted locks
hung down to his shoulders, and his eyes blazed like fire. After he had been properly received
and worshipped by the other sages, he sat down with Hotravahana and was told of Amba's
plight. He called for her and said, "You are as dear to me as you are to Hotravahana. Tell
me what I should do for you. If you like, I can order Bhisma to accept you. If he will
not, then I will consume him and all his ministers in battle. Or, if you prefer, I will order
Shalva. Tell me your decision, O princess."
Amba replied, "It seems that Bhisma is the cause of my present calamity. I think you
should slay him. I have become so vengeful that I now wish only to bring about his death.
O great sage, kill that covetous and mean-spirited man for my sake."
Parasurama was reluctant to take up arms against me and said, "I will only use my weapons if
the Brahmins request it. This is my vow. I can, however, make either Bhisma or Shalva
accept my order. Therefore, select one of them as your husband, fair maiden, and I will
do the rest."
Amba had already concluded that all she wanted was for me to die. She asked Parasurama again
and again to challenge me to a fight. At that time another rsi, Akritavana, feeling compassion
for Amba, also requested him to fight. Because a Brahmin requested him, Parasurama finally
said, "All right, I will go to Bhisma to seek a solution by peaceful means. If he will not
accept my words, then I will certainly slay him."
The following day he made his way to Hastinapura with Amba. I worshipped him with all respect,
and then he said with anger in his voice, "O Bhisma, in what consciousness did you kidnap
Amba? Although you took her by force, you then sent her away. You have robbed her of
her virtue, for no other man will now accept her. Therefore, you should accept her either
for your brother or for yourself."
I replied, "I cannot by any means take back this maiden, for she has given her heart to
another. It is always wrong for a virtuous man to accept such a woman. I cannot renounce
my duty out of fear, greed, attachment or pity. This is my vow, O Rama."
The sage blazed. "If you do not act according to my instructions, then I shall slay you
and all your ministers."
He said this repeatedly, and I tried in many ways to calm him with gentle words. Realizing
that he was bent upon fighting, I asked, "Why do you wish to fight with me, O best of your
race? In my childhood I was your pupil, and you taught me the military arts."
Parasurama replied, "Although I am your preceptor, you have not obeyed my command. There is only
one way to gratify me: either accept this maiden and perpetuate your race, or prepare
yourself for death."
But my guru's words found no place in my heart. I replied, "O lord, what you are commanding
me to do I cannot do. What is the use of laboring for it? What foolish man would accept into
his house a woman sighing for another? Furthermore, I have made a solemn vow never to marry. I
see no virtue in your order. The god Vayu has stated that a preceptor may be abandoned
if he is vain, has swerved from the right path, or does not know his proper duties.
I see no sin in fighting with you on this occasion rather than accepting your order.
You are asking me to engage in an unrighteous act only for your profit. Witness now the
strength of my arms and my superhuman prowess. Let us go to Kuruksetra. Slain by my arrows,
you will attain the glorious regions you have earned by asceticism, O you whose only wealth
is devotion."
By then, I was myself infuriated. I added, "You boast that you have conquered the entire
ksatriya race, but today I will prove that boast false. When you defeated the ksatriyas,
I had not yet been born, nor anyone like me. You consumed straw. He who will end your boasts
and your desire for battle has now been born. I will destroy your pride. Do not doubt it."
The sage smiled. "It is fortunate, O Bhisma, that you wish to fight. I will thus curb your
arrogance. We will fight at Kuruksetra. There your mother Ganga will see you thrown down
and turned into food for vultures. O ruler of the earth, your mother does not deserve
to see such a sight, but it must be so, for you are foolish and overly proud."
I bowed before the sage and said, "Be it so." After performing propitiatory rites to invoke
the Brahmins' blessings, I mounted my chariot and headed out of the city. Equipped with
all my weapons, I shielded my chariot with a white umbrella and yoked my white horses,
which can move with the speed of the wind. As I moved off, bards and singers eulogized
me. I arrived at Kuruksetra and saw Rama waiting there, grasping his huge bow. Thousands of
his followers were present, and around the battlefield stood numerous rsis. In the sky
I saw the gods, headed by Indra. Celestial music sounded and flowers fell from the heavens.
My own mother, assuming her divine human form, came before me and asked, "What do you wish
to do, my dear son?"
When I told her, she reproved me. "You should not fight with a Brahmin. Do not fight Jamadagni's
son. His strength is equal to that of Siva. He exterminated the ksatriya race. You know
all this. Why, then, have you come to fight with him?"
I explained to my mother all that had happened and made it clear that I would not now turn
back. She then implored the sage not to fight with me. I was, after all, his disciple, which
is nondifferent than his son.
The sage said he was determined to teach me a lesson. Helpless to stop either side, my
mother retired from the battlefield, feeling anxious for my sake.
I looked across at Parasurama and saw that he had no chariot or coat of mail. I called
out, "How can I fight you while you stand upon the earth, O Rama? Mount a chariot and
put on your armor, for I will now release my weapons."
Rama laughed back, "The earth is my chariot, the Vedas are my horses, and the wind is my
driver. The mothers of the Vedas末Gayatri, Savitri, and Sarasvati末are my armor. Well
protected by all of them I shall fight, O delighter of the Kurus."
The sage immediately covered me on all sides with a thick shower of arrows. Repelling his
shafts, I saw him mount a blazing chariot that resembled a city. Celestial horses were
yoked to it and it was protected and ornamented by golden armor and decorations. The chariot
was wonderful to behold and had been created by his will. Clad in brilliant armor, he stood
upon it looking like Yamaraja surrounded by the personified astras. His disciple, Akritavana,
who had requested him to fight, had become his charioteer, and he dexterously wheeled
the chariot about as Rama now called out, "Come! Come!"
I repelled another two showers of arrows. Then I dismounted my chariot. Putting down
my weapons, I went over to the sage and prostrated myself on the ground. "Whether you are my
equal in battle or my superior, I will fight with you, my lord, even though you are my
preceptor. Bless me that I may obtain victory."
Rama smiled. "O best of the Kurus, your behavior is proper and I am pleased by it. If you had
not come to me in this way, I would have cursed you. I cannot bless you to gain victory since
I myself want to vanquish you. Go and fight fairly and with patience, O hero."
I returned to my chariot and blew my conch, signaling the start of the battle. Both of
us hurled every kind of weapon at each other. Each desiring victory, we fought furiously.
Laughing, I released broad-headed shafts which chopped his bow into fragments again and again.
Other arrows passed clean through his body and came out dripping blood, entering the
earth like hissing serpents, but by his spiritual power the sage maintained his life and fought
back with fearsome energy.
Covered with blood, Rama stood in his chariot like a mountain pouring forth lava. He responded
with well-sharpened arrows that struck me like thunderbolts. Pierced in my vital organs,
I trembled and held onto my flagstaff for support. I summoned all my patience and, regaining
my composure, released a hundred deadly shafts at Rama. Struck by my arrows, Rama fell senseless
to the floor of his chariot.
I was immediately seized by remorse. "What have I done! I have slain my own preceptor,
a virtuous Brahmin." I dropped my weapons and held my head in anguish, but Rama soon
rose again, his charioteer having expertly removed the arrows and tended him. The sun
set and we retired for the day, coming together in the evening as friends.
The next day at sunrise we faced each other again on the battlefield. Rama shot blazing
arrows with serpent-like mouths. I cut them down with my own arrows even as they sped
through the air. The sage then resorted to celestial weapons, which I countered with
my own. During the violent exchange of weapons, I was suddenly caught on the chest by a dart
that rendered me unconscious. My charioteer quickly removed me from the battle and all
of Rama's followers, along with Amba, sent up a cheer.
After some time I regained consciousness and ordered my charioteer to take me back into
battle. He urged on my horses, which seemed to dance as they bore us toward Rama. As soon
as I saw him I fired hundreds of straight-flying arrows that screamed through the air, but
Rama cut every one of them into pieces with his own arrows and they fell uselessly to
the ground. Then I sent hundreds more shafts at Rama, even as he was countering my last
assault. He was caught off guard and knocked unconscious. As he fell from his chariot a
loud cry of "Alas" went up from his followers.
Seeing him dropped to the earth like the sun fallen from the sky, the Kashi princess, along
with his many disciples, ran over and comforted him. They sprinkled his face with cool water
and uttered benedictory hymns. Rama slowly rose and looked across at me, seated on my
chariot. Enraged, he shouted, "Stay, Bhisma. You are already killed!"
Even before remounting his chariot, he shot an arrow which seemed like the rod of death.
It hit my right side and sent me spinning. As I reeled Rama killed my horses. He simultaneously
covered me with a thousand more arrows. Without becoming confounded, I countered his attack
with lightness of hand. As I struck down his arrows my charioteer quickly fetched fresh
horses for my chariot. A terrible exchange went on between us. Our celestial arrows met
in mid-air and stayed there without falling. The sky became covered with a network of arrows
that screened the sun. Rama shot thousands, then tens of thousands, then millions of arrows
at me, which I duly countered with divine weapons. A great fire appeared in the sky,
reducing the surrounding forests to ashes. As we fought on in this way, the sun set and
the battle subsided.
We fought for many days, utilizing every celestial weapon and all forms of combat the Vedas describe.
Rama released missiles which can hardly be described. They assumed diverse forms and
came from every direction. I was continuously whirling in my chariot, repelling his weapons
and trying to counterattack with my own. Both of us sought gaps in our opponent's defenses,
and we both defended ourselves closely. The battle raged through the day, and at night
we rested. We were both extremely exhausted from the fighting.
On the twenty-third day of the battle, Rama fought with redoubled strength. All of a sudden
he fired a number of arrows which fell upon my horses and charioteer like venomous serpents.
They were all slain and I was left standing on an immobile chariot as Rama shot arrows
charged with death at me. As I fought off his shafts, Rama fired a powerful missile
that came at me like a streak of lightning. It caught me on the chest and threw me backwards
off the chariot. I fell on the ground a full fifty paces away.
Thinking me dead, Rama roared like a thundercloud and all his followers cheered. The Kurus who
had accompanied me were overwhelmed with sorrow. As I lay there stupefied, I saw eight brilliant
Brahmins with celestial forms surrounding me. They raised me off the ground and gently
supported me. Sprinkling my face with cool water, they said, "Do not be afraid. You will
soon be successful."
Revived and comforted, I stood up and saw my chariot yoked to fresh horses that my mother
was tending. I touched her feet and worshipped the memory of my ancestors. Then I ascended
the chariot and sent her away. I took the reins and continued fighting. I managed to
catch him with an arrow of great power that pierced him deeply. He dropped to his knees
and his bow slipped from his grasp as he fell down senseless.
I then saw many inauspicious omens. The sky rained blood and meteors fell. The sun was
eclipsed, high winds blew, and the earth trembled. But Rama was only stunned. In a short while,
he got back to his feet and continued the fight. Both of us threw our fiercest weapons
at each other until the sun set, when we again retired for the night.
That night, as I lay on my bed, my mangled body being tended by physicians, I thought
that the battle would never end. I prayed to the gods that they would show me some way
to overcome Rama. Then, while I was sleeping, I again saw the eight Brahmins who had visited
me on the battlefield. Comforting me again, they said, "Fear not, O son of Ganga. You
are our own body and we will give you all protection. You will surely vanquish Rama.
Here is a weapon which was known to you in your previous birth. Manufactured by Visvakarma,
it is called the Prashwapa, and no one on earth knows it末not even Rama. Call it to
mind in the battle tomorrow and it will come to you. Rama will be thrown down by that weapon,
but not killed. He cannot be slain, but he will be defeated and rendered unconscious
by the Prashwapa. You will then be able to revive him with the Samvodhana weapon."
The luminous Brahmins vanished and I awoke with joy. The sun rose and the battle began
again. Encouraged by the celestial Brahmins, I was enlivened and fought with renewed energy.
After a furious exchange of weapons I thought of the Prashwapa. The mantras suddenly appeared
in my mind, but as they did I heard a tumultuous uproar of heavenly voices: "O Bhisma, do not
release the Prashwapa missile."
Disregarding them, I placed the weapon on my bow and aimed it at Rama. Suddenly, Narada
Rsi appeared before me. "The gods are stationed in the sky and they forbid you to use this
weapon. Rama is an ascetic, a Brahmin, and your preceptor. O son of Kuru, do not humiliate
him by any means."
As Narada spoke I again saw the eight Brahmins in the heavens. They smiled and said, "O best
among the Bharatas, obey Narada. This will benefit all creatures."
Parasurama, seeing the irresistible Prashwapa upon my bow and not realizing that I had been
forbidden to release it, shouted, "Alas, O Bhisma, I am vanquished!" and he dropped his
bow. His father, Jamadagni, along with other heavenly rsis, then came to him and ordered
him to stop fighting. They told him that I was one of the eight Vasus and that he could
not slay me in battle. Jamadagni said, "Arjuna, the powerful son of Indra, will later cause
Bhisma's death. Brahma has ordained this."
So the battle ended. Severely wounded, I went before my preceptor and prostrated myself
at his feet. After this he said to Amba, "O princess, you have seen me exert myself to
defeat Bhisma. Still I have not been able to overpower him. Therefore, you may go where
you please. There is nothing more I can do."
The maiden replied mournfully, "Be it so, O holy one. You have done your best on my
behalf and I am grateful. Still, my heart burns with revenge. I will practice asceticism.
In this way I will gain the power to personally bring about Bhisma's death."
My preceptor was highly pleased with my prowess and he blessed me that I would be without
any equal in battle. After Amba had bowed before him, he left with all his followers.
Amba then entered the forest. She went to the Yamuna and performed severe penance. I
knew everything because when I returned to Hastinapura I appointed men to watch over
her constantly. They gave me regular reports. For one year she stood on the river bank without
eating. Emaciated and rough-skinned, bronzed by the sun, her hair matted末she stood with
hands upraised.
After one year she broke her fast by eating a single dry leaf. Then she remained waist-deep
in the water for another year, standing on one foot, fired with indignation.
For twelve years she went on in this way. Neither her relatives nor anyone else could
convince her to desist. Then she left the Yamuna and wandered at will, visiting the
sacred hermitages of many rsis. All the while she continued her austerities, bathing three
times daily, meditating silently, and fasting. Her appearance changed from gentle to fierce,
and she began to glow with ascetic power.
One day as she was bathing in the Ganges, my mother said, "Why do you perform such terrible
penance, O maiden?"
Amba replied, "I desire to destroy Bhisma, who is so powerful that not even Parasurama
could defeat him. Thus I am set upon achieving insuperable power by my austerities."
My ocean-going mother became angry upon hearing her words. "O lady, you act crookedly. You
will not be able to attain your object because you are so weak. O daughter of Kashi, if you
hold to your determination, I will curse you to become a terrible river in which water
flows in you only during the rainy season. May you be full of crocodiles and other fierce
After saying this and pretending to smile, my mother vanished, leaving Amba in her waters.
Still, the princess did not desist. She performed even more severe austerities, abstaining from
all food and water and controlling even her breathing. She wandered on, and when she arrived
at Vatsabhumi, she fell down and began to run as a river. It is recorded that the river
in Vatsabhumi runs only during the rainy season and is unapproachable due to its many crocodiles
and dangerous fish.
By merit of her austerities, however, only half of her body became a river while the
other half continued as before. She went on with her asceticism, and after some time the
rsis at Vatsabhumi approached her. They asked her what she desired and when she had explained
they said, "You should seek Mahadeva's favor, for that deity can fulfill any desire."
Amba supplicated Siva and he soon appeared before her asking to know her desire. When
she asked the god for the power to kill me, he replied, "You will slay him." Amba then
asked how it would be possible, since she was a woman. Siva replied, "My words can never
be false. O blessed one, you will become a man and kill Bhisma in battle. You will remember
all this in your next life. Born in Drupada's line, you will become a maharatha, quick in
the use of weapons and highly skilled and fierce in battle. This will come to pass soon."
When Siva vanished, Amba gathered wood and built herself a funeral pyre in the sight
of all the rsis. Setting fire to it, her mind burning with wrath, she hurled herself onto
the pyre, crying, "For the destruction of Bhisma!"
So, Sikhandi was Amba in his last life. He was born first as a woman and then attained
his present form. Listen as I tell you how this occurred.
Drupada's queen was childless for a long time. Together, she and her husband worshipped Siva
for a child. He prayed for a powerful son, but Siva told him that his wife would give
birth to a daughter who would later be transformed into a man. Although Drupada beseeched the
god for only a son, Siva replied, "It shall be as I have said, for it has been decreed
by destiny."
Soon after, Drupada's queen conceived. In due course she gave birth to a daughter. Remembering
Siva's words, Drupada announced that a son had been born. He had all the rituals performed
for a boy. No one saw the baby; only a few trusted palace staff knew the truth.
Drupada raised his child with love, teaching her writing and all the arts. He also had
her instructed in bowmanship and other martial skills. When she became a youth, the queen
asked Drupada to find her a suitable wife. Drupada was anxious. The child had not been
transformed into a son. Were Siva's words false? But his wife was fixed. Mahadeva's
promise cannot fail. Sikhandi will become a male, and therefore should marry a woman.
Drupada was convinced by the queen's faith and arranged for a marriage. He chose the
daughter of Hiranyavarman, king of the Dasharnakas. That king was unconquerable, and he was happy
to give his daughter to Drupada's son. No one suspected anything when the wedding ceremony
was performed. The youthful Sikhandi, beautiful like a god, appeared dressed as a boy in fine
armor. She remembered the events of her previous life and Siva's words, so even though she
had been born a woman, she conducted herself as if she were a man.
But it was only a matter of time before Hiranyavarma's daughter discovered the truth. She sent messengers
to her father to inform him that Drupada's son was actually a woman. Her father was furious.
He sent an emissary to Drupada saying, "I am insulted by your wickedness. How could
you have accepted my daughter in marriage for your own daughter? I am preparing now
to come and punish you for this act. Soon I will slay you and all your ministers."
Drupada was caught like a thief. There was nothing he could say. He tried to convince
Sikhandi's wife that her "husband" would in fact soon become a male, but all to no avail.
The girl's father amassed a large army and marched on Kampilya. Drupada was alarmed.
He said to his wife, "Fools that we are, we have brought a great calamity onto our heads.
We are in danger. What should we do now, in your opinion?"
Drupada and his wife concluded that their only recourse was to worship the gods. Drupada
supplicated the deities, while Hiranyavarma advanced on his country.
Meanwhile, Sikhandi, in sorrow at the danger she felt she had brought on them all, left
the city. Resolved to take her own life, she entered the forest in an area that was home
to a powerful Yaksa named Sthuna. Finding his abode, a white palace washed with lime,
she entered it and sat down to practice austerities. A few days later, Sthuna returned and saw
her sitting there, her body reduced from fasting. Kind by nature, he asked her why she was performing
asceticism. The Yaksa said, "Tell me if I can do anything to help you."
Sikhandi replied, "No one can give me what I desire."
But Sthuna didn't agree. "I can surely give you whatever you wish, O princess. I am Kuvera's
attendant and can grant boons. I will bestow even the unbestowable. Tell me then what you
Sikhandi related the whole story in detail, concluding, "The only way to save the present
situation is that I attain my manhood, O faultless one."
The Yaksa, saddened by her story and feeling afflicted by destiny, considered her request
carefully. Finally he replied, "Truly this must be so. I will, however, make a condition.
I am able to grant your wish only by changing my sex with yours, but you must return my
manhood after a short time."
Sikhandi agreed to return to Sthuna as soon as Hiranyavarma left Kampilya. The two then
exchanged sexes and Sikhandi went back to her father's palace.
When Hiranyavarma's army arrived at Kampilya, he dispatched his priest to Drupada, saying,
"Come out and give me battle, vile one. You have cheated me." But by then Sikhandi had
returned in a male form. Drupada said, "There has been a mistake, O holy one. The king has
been misinformed. See for yourself my son's gender."
The surprised Hiranyavarma had a number of beautiful maidens sent to examine Sikhandi.
When they informed him that Drupada's son was indeed male, he entered Kampilya with
a glad heart. He stayed with Drupada for some time and finally returned to his own country,
happy in his newfound alliance with Drupada.
Sthuna had concealed himself in his palace, waiting for Sikhandi's return. As he waited,
Kuvera happened to pass by, coursing through the skies in his heavenly chariot. He saw
Sthuna's palace, shining beautifully and adorned with colorful banners, gems, and garlands.
Descending, he approached the palace, but when no one came out to greet him he angrily
asked his attendants, "What fool lives here? Why does he not greet me?"
Some Yaksas then informed Kuvera what had transpired. They told him that Sthuna was
hiding in shame in his palace. Kuvera replied, "Bring that foolish one here. I will punish
Sthuna came out. In his woman's form he stood bashfully before his master, Kuvera. "Why
have you acted in this way?" Kuvera asked. "You have humiliated the Yaksas by giving
away your sex. Therefore I curse you not to regain your masculinity. Sikhandi too will
not regain her female form."
The other Yaksas felt compassion for Sthuna. After all, he had acted only out of kindness.
They asked Kuvera to set a limit on his curse so that Sthuna would not be always punished.
Kuvera said, "When Sikhandi dies, Sthuna will regain his male form. Let him be free of anxiety."
The powerful Kuvera, who can travel long distances in a moment, then left with his followers.
Shortly afterwards, Sikhandi returned. "O Sthuna, as we have agreed I will now return
your manhood."
Sthuna replied, "It has been ordained that manhood shall be yours for this life, O noble
one. Be pleased to return to your abode." Hearing this, Sikhandi returned in joy to
* * *
When Bhisma finished telling the story, he added, "Thus Sikhandi, formerly Amba, hates
me, but because he was first born a woman, I will never raise weapons against him. I
have vowed this: I will not fight with weapons against women, or those who bear women's names,
or even those who appear like women. O Duryodhana, I will not fight with Sikhandi even if he
attacks me, desiring my death."
Duryodhana nodded. He looked at Bhisma with respect. Even though the grandfather was often
cutting and harsh toward him, the prince could not deny his nobility. Placing his hand on
the royal scepter, Duryodhana said, "O son of Ganga, we will now have to fight the mighty
Pandava army. Abounding in heroes equal to the universal protectors, the army will be
as difficult to cross as the ocean. Tell me, O Grandsire, how long you feel it will take
you to annihilate them."
Bhisma's old leathery face, adorned with a flowing white beard, broke into a smile. "It
is fitting that you should ask, Duryodhana. A leader must know both the strengths and
weaknesses of both the enemy and himself before beginning to fight. Hear then of the utmost
power I will display in this war. Using ordinary weapons on ordinary soldiers, and celestial
weapons on those versed in them, I can slay ten thousand foot soldiers and one thousand
charioteers a day. Or it may be more. If I become fired with anger when I release my
weapons, I can destroy many more men than that. However, you should know that I will
only fight fairly."
Bhisma reminded Duryodhana of the rules of battle, which he would not break. For example,
heroes should never use divine weapons to kill lesser warriors. The fight should always
be equal. Even if one possessed celestial weapons, he should contend only hand-to-hand
with a weaponless enemy if such became necessary.
Bhisma's hand touched his bow. "In this way, O King, by fighting ceaselessly throughout
the day, I can slay the enemy army in one month."
Cheering Bhisma, Duryodhana turned toward Drona. "O preceptor, what about you? How long
do you think it would take you to overcome the enemy?"
Like Bhisma, Drona smiled at Duryodhana. "I am old and have lost some of my strength.
Still, I will exert myself fully and consume the Pandava army by the fire of my weapons.
I also think I can annihilate all the warriors in about a month."
Krpa said it would take him two months, and Asvatthama, bolder, said he could do it in
ten days. Karna said he could annihilate the enemy in five days, at which Bhisma laughed
and said, "You may speak in such strains only so long as you do not encounter Arjuna with
his weapons and his conch, guided by Vasudeva. Say whatever you will, son of Radha, for talk
is cheap."
Karna frowned, but remained silent. Duryodhana continued questioning his generals and commanders,
ascertaining their power and determination to fight. The Kauravas discussed their battle
plans well into the night. Soon after sunrise the fight would begin.